Domestic registry approved

4-1 vote makes Lawrence only city in state to recognize gay partnerships

Lawrence soon will be unlike any other community in the state in how it treats gay couples.

Commissioners on a 4-1 vote agreed to make Lawrence the first city in the state to create a domestic partnership registry that will provide some official recognition to gay couples, who are prohibited by state law from marrying.

“This is the right thing to do,” the Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, told commissioners. “It is good for Lawrence. It is good for humanity.”

The registry, which could be operational by Aug. 1, will allow unmarried couples to file paperwork at the City Clerk’s Office that will recognize their domestic partnership.

The registry will require both partners to be 18 years or older and “live together in a relationship of indefinite duration with a mutual commitment in which the partners share the necessities of life and are financially interdependent.” A registration fee, which hasn’t been set, will be charged to cover the administrative costs of the program.

Supporters of the registry, which was proposed by members of the Kansas Equality Coalition, have said some companies offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners of employees, but the companies require some proof of the relationship. A registry run by the city could fill that requirement, they say.

The registry will not require any company to offer benefits to domestic partners. Heterosexual couples who choose not to marry also will be allowed to register.

A state issue?

Commissioner Mike Amyx was the lone commissioner to vote against the registry idea.

“I’m not sure this is the way to do this,” said Amyx, who said he thought creating such a registry is something the state is better suited to do.

Other commissioners, though, said Lawrence couldn’t afford to wait.

“I think this is really something more appropriate for the state to take care of,” Commissioner Boog Highberger said. “But the state has failed us on this issue, and the federal government has failed us. If we are to have the type of city and type of life we want, we have to deal with this.”

Concerns had been raised by some members of the Kansas Legislature that such registries were an attempt to create a loophole to the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriages. Mayor Sue Hack disagreed.

“When we are recognizing people who have committed their lives to someone, we are not circumventing anything,” Hack said.

A legal opinion from the attorney general said the city’s registry would not violate the constitutional amendment. But the ban on same-sex marriage did weigh on the minds of some commissioners.

“As part of the faith community and as a devoted Christian, I do support the Kansas marriage amendment,” Commissioner Rob Chestnut said of the ban on same-sex marriages. “But it is clear to me that this registry does not equate to marriage.”

Instead, Chestnut said he thought the registry could be useful in helping some people gain access to health insurance.

“To that end, I think it is worthwhile,” he said.

Plenty of interest

The commission meeting room was overflowing with spectators. Commissioners heard about an hour’s worth of public comment, with supporters outnumbering opponents 15 to four.

“It isn’t your job to tell me if my life is correct,” said Kelly Barth, a Lawrence resident who is a lesbian. “It is your job to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly and equitably.”

Opponents of the registry expressed concerns that the city was being irresponsible by not requiring gay couples to submit to an HIV test, and that the city was harming the institution of marriage by promoting homosexuality. Others said they feared the registry was just the first step by activists to push for special rights for gay individuals.

“The city is going to be hurt by this,” said Ray Mehl, a Lawrence resident. “The city will find litigation down the road on this. I think I represent a lot of traditional families in the city that feel the same way.”